Zoei Sutton’s Bali Dog Meat Commentary

‘As long as it’s not dog’ — What the Bali dog meat scandal can tell us about Australian meat eating culture.

 Animals Australia has once again uncovered horrifying cruelty, this time through an investigation of the Balinese dog meat trade which aired on ABC’s 7.30 earlier this week. It is estimated that up to 70,000 dogs a year are killed to meet the growing demand for dog meat, which in itself is reportedly a fairly new practice cultivated by a small christian minority, standing in stark contrast to the majority religion (Hinduism) which regards dogs as sacred.

 Whilst the consumption of dog meat is not explicitly illegal in Bali, Animals Australia creator Lyn White argues that the food safety and animal welfare breaches are against the law. In particular, the presence of arsenic remaining in the bodies of animals killed by poisoning, and unsanitary conditions in which dogs are kept and slaughtered pose a serious health risk to any who consume it. We also see dogs being caught in rabies ‘red zones’ — locations where a rabies outbreak has recently occurred, and from which animals are not supposed to be transported elsewhere.

 The animal welfare concerns are numerous, with the investigation uncovering dogs bound by their feet and mouths, struggling to breath and unable to move. They are left in small bamboo enclosures for up to a week in their excretions before slaughter. The investigators describe three main methods of execution— strangulation, poison, and bludgeoning, none of which is quick. In regards to a puppy, who we see eating a fish head poisoned with arsenic, one investigator tells abc: “It took many, agonizing minutes for the puppy to die, and for the first time in my career, I turned off the camera…I sat stroking him as he died and found myself apologising for the cruelty of my fellow man”. We see a mother dog, nudging her puppies into hiding before trying to run herself and being caught. It is difficult viewing, and easy to understand why viewers (including the estimated 1 million Australians who visit Bali each year) would be upset by it.

 However, Animals Australia’s investigation also highlights aspects of Australian meat eating culture, perhaps some that many would rather not think about. As a local tells 7.30, ‘It’s good to eat meat, it makes us strong’ and others report the health benefits of eating dog meat, I am reminded of numerous campaigns here in Australia— including the MLA’s recent ‘You’re better on beef’ and ‘Iron Lady’ campaigns. In the 7.30 report we see Australian tourists being unknowingly sold skewers of dog meat marketed as another species — an Australian tourist offered a ‘chicken’ skewer readily accepts ‘as long as it’s not dog’, indicating a level of concern for one species not afforded to ‘other’ animals. Despite the shock, outrage, and sadness visible in the reactions to the 7.30 report, the same concern often doesn’t extend to cows, chickens or any other animals considered ‘acceptable’ food in our own culture, despite the similarly brutal lives and deaths they may experience (something which Animals Australia highlights here).

 Not only does this story uncover a previously unseen, and deeply concerning, element of human relations with animals, but it also gives us (particularly those who consume the flesh of ‘other’ animals) an uncomfortable pause for thought around our own boundaries of those we consider food or companions, and why. When holding a mirror up to other cultures’ relations with animals, we inescapably catch ourselves in the reflection.

 You can support Animals Australia’s campaign to help the Bali dogs here.

Zoei Sutton is a PhD candidate at Flinders University. She is the Australian Sociological Association’s (TASA), Sociology and Animals thematic group co-convenor, the TASA postgraduate blog editor and the H-Animal Review Editor

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